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Promoting the care perspective in policymaking

Prioritising care on a policy agenda begins by demonstrating its important social and economic impact and costs.

Efforts over the past decade to quantify care have been key to raising awareness at the policy level. Different measures of care exist along with different estimations of its value in economic terms. Time Use Surveys (TUS) are largely regarded as a reliable way to measure time devoted to unpaid care. Such surveys ask individuals how many hours they spend doing particular activities, either through specific questions in a broader survey or through a dedicated diary approach.

From a policy perspective, TUS provide a valuable insight into how responsibilities for care are shared within the family and the community. TUS also show how time spent on care can impact a carers’ abilities to engage in other activities, such as education, skills development, or wage employment. Given its importance for policymaking, in 2012, Colombia became the first country to pass a law (La ley 1413 de 2010) mandating the collection of time-use surveys to account for the care economy.

While there is a broad consensus amongst economists on using time use data to measure unpaid care, placing a monetary value on these non-market activities is complex, with different approaches providing varying values. There are two main approaches: the input and the output valuation. Input valuation gives a value based on the time devoted to unpaid care. As a price of time, it uses alternatively the market wage of the person who performed unpaid work (opportunity cost) or of the domestic worker hired by the family to undertake those tasks). The output valuation approach provides a market-equivalent value to the public good produced (e.g.having a clean house, a well-educated child, etc.). The choice of the method and the definition of care are relevant and lead to variations in estimation. The input-based method for valuing the French care economy would lead to estimates as high as 44% of the GDP, reaching 57% with the output-based one (Charmes and Unni, 2003). The variation within the input valuation is even larger: for South Africa, estimates obtained relying on the opportunity cost approach are generally twice as high as those obtained through the replacement cost varying from 18% to 50% (Budlender and Brathaug 2002).

Despite the use of TUS and growing research on the issue unpaid care has made little inroads into policy agendas due to the still widely held misperception that it cannot be measured, and that it is a “women’s issue” rather than one of importance for society at large. Across most societies, care is a responsibility that falls predominantly on women, resulting in gendered outcomes of unpaid care. For example, measuring hours spent on unpaid care highlights the extent to which the unequal gender distribution of caring responsibilities reduces women’s ability to take part in other activities. Due to the double time burden of paid and unpaid care, women have less time to participate in ongoing skills development or networking, or to take part in other activities, such as participating in a trade union, political organisation or a cultural activity. The inequitable division of care responsibilities thus often directly limits women’s socio-economic empowerment opportunities.

The heavy responsibility of care that falls on women has led to its perception as “drudgery” or a burden. In order to position care as a critical area of policymaking, it is important to demonstrate that the “drudgery” dimension of care is an outcome of the unequal division of care work and poor service provision and supportive infrastructure rather than an intrinsic characteristic of care itself, which is in fact fundamental for the wellbeing of families and communities.

Transformative policies and campaigns can support more equitable distribution of care work between men and women and reduce its “drudgery” aspect. A key objective would be to challenge gender norms through “de-feminising” care-giving and encouraging men to take on equal roles in the family’s caring responsibilities. For example, in Brazil, the Network of Men for Gender Equality (RHEG) started a national campaign, “Give me leave, I’m a father” to raise awareness about men’s involvement in childbirth and childcare in 2008. Paternity leave is an attempt to redistribute care responsibilities from women to men. For example since 2003, mothers and fathers in Iceland enjoy shared parental leave of nine months (three months are reserved for the mother, three for the father and three can be shared).

(Image credits: hdptcar /Flickr under Creative Commons License)


Gender patterns and value of unpaid work: findings from China's first large-scale time use survey
X. Dong; X. An / United Nations Research Institute for Social Development 2012
In 2008, the first large-scale time-use survey (TUS) was carried out across China. This paper, produced by the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, analyses the TUS data collected, describing the gender patterns a...
Measuring unpaid care work with public policy in mind
V. Esquivel / UN Women 2013
Prepared for a UN Women expert group meeting on structural and policy constraints in achieving the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls, this paper by Valeria Esquivel concerns measuring unpaid care work with public polici...
Measuring the economic and social value of domestic work
D. Budlender / International Labour Organization 2011
It is generally accepted within law and practice on domestic work that it is undervalued, underpaid, unprotected, and poorly regulated.This policy brief represents a summary of a subsequently published working paper on this theme, and...
Home-Based Care Alliance policy brief: debunking myths
Home-Based Care Alliance 2013
The Home-Based Care Alliance (HBCA) represents more than 30,000 caregivers organised into multi-district HBCAs in twelve African countries, caring for over 200,000 neighbours and friends, and with a history of organising around HIV/AI...